What is a labral tear?


A POC holding her right shoulder

Labral tears affect ball and socket joints, like your hips and shoulders.

The labrum is a rubbery ring of cartilage that rims the socket of your hip and shoulder joints. It acts like a shock absorber while it keeps the ball of the joint in place.

Overuse and traumatic injuries, such as falls, or the aging process can cause tears in the labrum. Since it is a type of cartilage, tears will not heal on their own.

What does a labral tear feel like?

Whether the tear occurs in the hip or the shoulder, labral tears cause an achy feeling deep within the joint. Pain also may radiate to the inside or the outside of the joint, depending on the tear’s location.

The severity and location of the tear determine the level of pain, movement loss, and the type of treatment needed. Larger tears can separate the cartilage from the socket’s rim and cause joint instability which interferes with normal movement.

It’s critical to seek treatment as soon as possible for these types of painful joint injuries. It’s best to seek advice from an orthopedic specialist to retain or regain your range-of-motion during recovery.

How are labral tears diagnosed?

After an initial physical exam, your health care provider may order an X-ray to ensure the bones surrounding the shoulder are not broken.

Depending on the level of pain and the amount of movement lost, the health care provider may prescribe physical therapy or schedule a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

If pain and limited movement continue after two or three months of physical therapy, surgery may be the next step.

What is the treatment for a labral tear?

If the labrum has not torn away from the socket, it may heal on its own with rest and rehabilitation guidance from an athletic trainer or physical therapist.

If the orthopedic specialist diagnoses a SLAP tear or a Bankart tear, repair may require surgery.

SLAP tears occur due to overuse and repetitive motions, traumatic impact, or age. The acronym SLAP comes from the location and characteristics of the injured joint. SLAP stands for Superior (top) Labral tear from Anterior (front) to Posterior (back). Most SLAP tears require surgery.

Bankart tears affect the lower rim of the labrum. They too may require a surgical repair.

The orthopedic surgeon may choose to repair labral tears with arthroscopic surgery. This minimally invasive surgical approach helps reduce pain and speed healing. Sometimes the location of labral tears requires a traditional surgical procedure.

In either case, recovery from surgery to repair cartilage tears takes a long time.

It may take up to six weeks before the joint has healed enough to begin small movements. It may take up to six months to return to normal strength and function.

For the best results and greatest range-of-motion after a labral tear, it is critical to carefully follow the doctor’s instructions for recovery.

While the shoulder may feel better, using it prematurely can cause damage and decrease the range-of-motion.

If you experience shoulder pain and decreased mobility, call Bone & Joint to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist to find out why.


Check out other articles published in January 2021:

Injured while active? Working with an athletic trainer can help you get back in action.
Avoid these six common snow shoveling injuries
Common injuries with home-exercise programs
Learn more about robotic-arm assisted surgery
Bone & Joint Center offers Health Services Financing

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